How to sell your book before you write it: writing a non-fiction book proposal that lands you a publishing deal and a big advance

How to sell your book before you write it: writing a non-fiction book proposal that lands you a publishing deal and a big advance

If you’ve ever dreamed of writing a non-fiction book, you might be surprised to know that before penning a single word of your masterpiece, you can actually sell it. The magic wand that can make this happen? A killer book proposal.

A non-fiction book proposal is your pitch to a publisher or literary agent. It demonstrates the value, marketability, and structure of your book idea. Done correctly, it can secure you a publishing deal and even an advance, all before you’ve even started Chapter 1.

Let’s dive into the details:

1. Start with a Powerful Introduction

Begin with a compelling overview or introduction that hooks the reader. This should be a succinct encapsulation of your book’s core idea and why it’s essential.

2. Define Your Book’s Purpose

Why does your book need to exist? What gap in the market or the literature does it fill? Your proposal should clearly define the problem your book will address and how your book offers a solution.

3. Target Audience

Who is your book for? Be specific. For example, instead of saying “people interested in weight loss”, you might say “women in their 30s who have tried multiple diets without success.”

4. Market Analysis

Research similar titles in the market. How is your book different or better? Provide actual data and sales figures of competing titles to show there’s a market for your book.

5. Table of Contents and Chapter Summaries

Outline the structure of your book. For each chapter, provide a brief summary, showcasing the progression of your content.

6. Sample Chapters

While you don’t need the complete book, publishers want to see that you can deliver. Include 1-3 of your best chapters as samples.

7. Your Credentials – Why You?

Why are you the best person to write this book? Highlight your expertise, experience, and any platforms (like a popular blog or podcast) that you have.

8. Marketing and Promotion Plan

Show that you’re proactive. Describe how you plan to promote your book, whether through speaking engagements, online marketing, book tours, or other methods.

9. Endorsements or Forewords

If you have any connections to influential figures in your field who can provide an endorsement or foreword, mention them. It can add significant credibility.

10. Book Specifications

Provide details like the estimated word count, illustrations or graphics you plan to include, and any special features or formatting.

11. Comparative Titles

List 4-6 similar books, their publishers, publication dates, and a brief note on how your book differs. Resources like Goodreads or Amazon can help you research this.

12. Follow the Submission Guidelines

Each agent or publisher will have specific submission guidelines. Follow them to the letter. Resources like Writers’ Market or the Association of Authors’ Representatives can guide you.

13. Professional Presentation

Consider hiring a professional editor to polish your proposal. Sites like Reedsy can help you find the right person.

14. Query Letters and Literary Agents

Before sending out your proposal, you’ll need to capture interest with a query letter. This is a brief letter that pitches your book and asks for permission to send the proposal. If you’re targeting larger publishers, you’ll likely need a literary agent first. The AgentQuery database is a good place to start.

Final Thoughts

Remember, your proposal isn’t just about selling your book; it’s about selling you. Publishers want to work with authors who are passionate, professional, and proactive. Your proposal should reflect all these qualities.

Finally, persistence is key. Rejections are part and parcel of the publishing industry. Keep refining, keep pitching, and most importantly, keep believing in your book’s potential.

Happy pitching!

PS here’s a case study on writing a nonfiction book proposal with chatGPT and AI writing tools.